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Just Catalogued January 2024

Posted in Behind the Scenes on 05 Jan 2024

Rescuing animalsBoston Terrier Dog holding wooden toy in mouth ref. D/EX2966/2/3
One of our favourite recent deposits is the papers of Doris Long, formerly Whitehorn and Gash, 1925-2022 (D/EX2966), relating to her lifelong love of animals. Doris Cicely (sometimes known as 'Dot') Barefoot was born in Tilehurst in 1914. In c.1939 she became a typist in Berkshire County Council (BCC) Children's Department, and in 1942 she married Frederick George Whitehorn. Tragically widowed in 1946, Doris returned to live with her widowed mother in Tilehurst, and bought a Boston terrier named Roger to help with her bereavement. She trained him to perform at parties and you can read all about Roger’s incredible talents in our November 2023 Highlight.

Cub scout boys kneel next to and stroke a fox cub ref. D/EX2966/3/6/2

After Roger’s death, Doris married BCC colleague Ronald ('Ron') Gash in 1957, and they adopted a daughter, Cherry. Doris also set up an animal sanctuary at their home, which became the Tilehurst Animal and Bird Sanctuary, where over 25 years many local families adopted pets, and she also helped rehabilitate wildlife. One rescued fox cub became the mascot of a local pack of Cub Scoutsa donkey performed in school Nativity plays, and a pony went into school classes. Some of the photographs in thcollections show some very unlikely friends cuddling up together.

A cat stands over a thrush bird ref. D/EX2966/3/14
The oldest abseiler: new adventures for Doris

In 1984, the year in which Doris was awarded an MBE, the rented land on which the sanctuary was located was sold for development, and Doris (now a widow again) was forced to close the sanctuary. She took some of her favourite rescued pets (including two foxes and a monkey), to her new home in Sussex, although the largest animals had to be rehomed elsewhere; three giant tortoises went to Marwell Zoo and horses etc to local friends.

Elderly woman holding a cat standing next to an elderly man who was Mayor of Reading c.1979 ref. D/EX2966/3/35

There was to be a third exciting chapter to her life in retirement. At the age of 73 she married for a third time, to Sidney Long, who died in 2007. Then, aged 85, she started abseiling for charity and broke a number of Guinness World Records over the next few years. In 2009 she was awarded a Pride of Britain award for her fundraising. Her final abseil (down the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth) was in 2015, aged 101. Doris died at home on 2 March 2019, aged 104.  We are very pleased that her wonderful work with animals will not be forgotten thanks to the arrival of her papers and photographs here - plus a biography written by one of the former helpers at the sanctuary.

The bonniest bunny in Berkshire

We have also received the schedules for Windsor Championship Dog Show, 1956 (D/EX2916); and for Cox Green Horticultural and Craft Show, 1981 (D/EX2965)The latter included classes for home made beer and wine, and one for a ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’, consisting of a homemade loaf of bread, cheese (not home made) and bottle of home made beer, ‘the whole displayed appetisingly with a napkin, on a tray.  Bread and Beer only will be judged.’ The pet competition included classes for ‘Bonniest Bunny’, ‘Cutest Kitten’, the ever-popular ‘Waggiest tailed Dog’, and ‘Best Groomed Dog with Smartest Accessories, i.e. Collar and Lead’.

The darker side: Woolhampton’s whaling and slavery connections

A very large house called Woohlampton House ref. D/EX2839/1/8/1
Not all our collections are as joyous as those mentioned above. Records of the Blyth (later Currie) family of Woolhampton, 1614-1926 (D/EX2839) mostly relate to the Woolhampton House estate, but they also hold a document illuminating the whaling trade of the 19th century. It is an agreement between Charles Kemish, Commander of the ship Eliza Ann, and the officers and seamen contracting for a return voyage from Gravesend in Kent to the South Whale Fishery, 28 November 1822. Signed and sealed by each man, it records their station (rank), share in the profits, and pay. The terms are printed, with standardised provisions not to leave the ship without the commander's consent, and to exert themselves 'in taking and obtaining Oil, Whalebone, and Head-matter, or Seals, or other Animals, or Substances whatever, the Produce of the South Seas’.

James Blyth (1801-1873) co-owned a shipping firm based in Mauritius which dominated the sugar trade between that island and England. He was resident in Mauritius 1830-1839 and his interests there included the ownership of slaves. From c.1846 the firm's focus moved to the sugar trade with Brazil. Blyth purchased the Woolhampton House estate in 1856, and was High Sheriff of Berkshire 1863-1864. His elder daughter Isabella (c.1830-1904) married Robert Burn (1820-1890) in 1859; Robert assumed the name Burn-Blyth by royal licence in 1873. As they had no children, the estate then passed to Isabella's younger sister Euphemia (1833-1905), and she and her husband James Pattison Currie assumed the name Currie-Blyth.

An item in this collection of more general interest is a handwritten copy of the commission by James I in 1614 to the Barons of the Exchequer for the granting of free warren for game (basically keeping rabbits for food) to all lords of manors.